Column by Carl Larsen
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It’s been a long time since Gene Autry and Roy Rogers tumbled their tumbleweeds across the Western skies. Dressed in their immaculate spangled cowboy outfits, they rode and sang their hearts out until the 1950’s brought TV along to end their songs.
For over 30 years they remained, ghost riders in the skies of our memories. But you can’t keep a good galoot down, and into town rode the sons of those pioneers, headed by Joaquin Phoenix Walking the Line in 2005, Robert Duval winning a Best Actor Oscar in 1983’s “Tender Mercies,” and the even more disheveled Jeff Brides, riding “Crazy Heart” and tying up at the Visulite Corral in Staunton on Feb. 5.
Robert Duval and Maggie Gyllenhaal co-star, making this a win/win movie double bill no matter how you deal your tender hearts or crazy mercies. Both films sport superlative acting performances and both have already won impressive awards, including the recent Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild.
Jeff Bridges, as faded as an old pair of Levi’s, plays a country-western singer named Bad Blake, nearing the end of his career. He travels around playing bowling alley bars and one-night stands, trudging across America in a beat-up old pickup truck.
Along comes a music journalist, single mom Maggie Gyllenhaal, and after an interview they make beautiful after-hours music together. She’s wary but he’s quickly involved with her but they split after a harrowing lost-child incident due to his boozing.
Colin Farrell shows up as Bad’s former friend, with the chance to rebuild some bridges, offering the old geezer the opportunity to open for him on the road. The film then follows the unlikely love affair atwixt Maggie and Jeff, with Duval chiming in as an old pal of our battered hero.
This top-notch cast is directed by first-timer Scott Cooper who also wrote the screenplay. Bridges does his own singing and guitar-pluckin’, using the marvelous country western songs of T-Bone Burnett.
Oscar voters love mavericks, and Bridges should have a good shot at picking up one of those little golden statues. His performance is subtle, and you’ll love him despite yourself.
COMING ATTRACTIONS: Fans of Clint Eastwood (and we are legion) will be saving their pennies up for the release, on Feb. 16, of “Clint Eastwood: 35 Films 35 Years at Warner Bros.” It’s a fancy DVD collection with plenty of extras.